Saturday, March 24, 2012

Poem In Your Post: Dover Beach

The sea is calm tonight,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!

Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Agean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
This classic Matthew Arnold poem from 1851 came to mind as I was preparing the culminating activities for our study of William Golding's Lord of the Flies.  Both works lead us on a journey from lightness into dark, and in both pieces the sea paradoxically inspires both hope and dread.  While the poem complements the novel, "Dover Beach" stands strong on its own, so I hope you enjoy it even if you don't happen to be pondering the allegorical and symbolic resonances of Ralph and Jack and Simon and Piggy.
This day's unfolding parallels the descent from joy into dread as well:  bright skies at waking gradually grayed over, and now relaxed errands are collapsing into a dreary afternoon as I confront the final chapters of Golding's dark novel before creating lessons for a hectic week to come.
How about this, though, to perk us all up?  Consider the book you're reading right now.  Which poem might pair well with it?  Share the book title and author here as well as the poem and poet, or post it on your own blog and share the link with us in the comments below.
p.s.  I found a lovely painting that Dedree Drees created in response to "Dover Beach".  Her painting carries the sense of fearful awe straining against hope that I was experiencing in both Arnold's poem and Golding's novel. Check it out here at her website.  Scroll down through quite a few evocative and skillful paintings until you find it.  If you keep the poem in your mind's eye, you'll pick it out immediately.


Parrish Lantern said...

Beautiful poem about a place about 20 miles from me.

Laurie said...

How fortunate for you, PL. Does the ocean there evoke the feelings that Arnold projects here?

Booksnob said...

Hey Laurie,
I am going to do a poem in my post every Sunday this month for National Poetry month. Is this a meme you created and are there any special rules that go along with finding the poetry. Let me know. I am on Spring Break right now and still busy doing all the things I can't while I am teaching. Never a dull moment over here. I am reading Feed. Have you read that? My English partner is having our students read it when we get back from break so I thought I would read over break. It is a bit like reading in a foreign language.

Laurie said...

Thank you for celebrating poetry with us this month, Laura! Well, it's my meme, but only Parrish and I seem to participate regularly. That's OK though, because our poetry posts are visited by many people, so we're expanding poetry's reach every week. There are no rules, but if we all link together then perhaps our readers will find more poems to love. I'm so happy that you'll be joining us for National Poetry Month in the U.S.
Yes, I've read Feed, but it's not my favorite of M.T. Anderson's offerings. I'm afraid I have little to offer by way of "translation", but if you keep going, the coarseness and jargonese of the language register eventually becomes familiar...
When I first read it, I wondered if the language and intense pacing Anderson uses in Feed was an homage to Neal Stephenson's Snowcrash. Do you know that novel? Feed also hearkens back to Fahrenheit 451, the novel I'll be teaching after spring break, so I suppose it's a Y.A. nod to more sophisticated dystopian novels past.
Let's keep in touch to discuss how our students respond to these two texts, one classic, one contemporary, eh?

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